Is SF’s Interim Mayor Ed Lee Really A Lee Or A Mah?

I saw yet another interesting article posted by a friend on Facebook regarding San Francisco Interim Mayor Ed Lee’s family origins and family name. Back in August, I had blogged about how the Lee family association is one of the oldest and largest Chinese family associations in San Francisco and indeed, the world. Well, there are rumors being spread that Lee is possibly not a Lee.

The Chinatown gossip has it that the mayor is trading on a powerful name that isn’t his own – that his father was born a Mah or a Mar, variants of the same name, and immigrated to the United States as a “paper son,” buying his way into a Lee family already established here. The paper son phenomenon dates back to the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed government buildings and the immigration records inside them.

The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had barred most Chinese from entering the country, and many Chinese people living here used the loss of immigration records to claim citizenship and bring in family from China. Many also, for money, brought people who weren’t related to them. There’s no telling how many paper sons immigrated to the United States to join families that weren’t their own, but Sue Lee, executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America in Chinatown, said there were probably thousands.

Lee’s father was born in China and Lee was born in the United States. As far as I am concerned, unless Ed Lee is trying to claim he is directly related to some famous ‘Lee’ like Bruce Lee, even if Lee’s father was a Mah, whatever Lee’s last name is doesn’t make a damn difference to me. Ed Lee was Edwin Mah Lee and is legally a Lee. I’m sure the older Chinese and traditionalist might care – but in the San Francisco Chronicle article, Interim Mayor Lee did go back to his roots in China to clarify any misunderstandings about his family origin background.

Some are claiming that Senator Leland Yee, another San Francisco mayoral candidate, is behind the false rumors of Lee really being a Mah. With the number of candidates running for mayor, maybe the number of votes by Lee’s will make a difference in the mayoral election, but I doubt it. I think Lee’s advantage is that he is already interim mayor. As the current mayor and incumbent, he is popular and has the advantage of being an incumbent. Why vote for someone new if you’re happy with the current office holder? Voting based on a candidate having the same family name makes about as much sense to me as choosing a candidate based on flipping a coin.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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